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James Arness’ Earnings: How Much Did He Make Per Episode of Gunsmoke? (Answered 2023)

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How much did James Arness make per episode of GunsmokeYou may have heard the name James Arness and know him for his iconic role as Marshal Matt Dillon in Gunsmoke, but you might not be aware of how much he made from this long-running show. According to TV Guide, James Arness earned around $30 million up until 1970 – an impressive figure that translates into roughly $230 million today.

Not only did his salary increase over time due to contract renegotiations; after twenty successful seasons on CBS, plus five more made-for-TV movies afterwards, it’s no surprise that at the time of his death in 2011 he had accumulated a net worth estimated to be around $8 million.

Despite all these successes with Gunsmoke however, there was so much more than just this series for which we can thank James Arness! He had a long and varied acting career spanning decades. While Gunsmoke will always be what he is best remembered for, Arness appeared in many other films and shows over the years.

He was a talented and prolific actor who left behind an impressive body of work.

Key Takeaways

  • James Arness earned $1,200 per episode of Gunsmoke initially and later saw his salary rise to $20,000.
  • At the time of his death in 2011, his net worth was approximately $8 million.
  • Arness’ income sources included acting, film appearances, royalties, investments, and real estate.
  • John Wayne’s mentorship played a pivotal role in Arness’ career, and his performances on Gunsmoke made a lasting impact on his legacy.

James Arness’ Earnings on Gunsmoke

James Arness
James Arness earned $1,200 per episode when Gunsmoke first aired in 1955. As the Western drama gained popularity over the years, his salary increased to $20,000 per episode, which equates to over $150,000 in today’s dollars.

Initial Salary

  1. James Arness played Marshal Matt Dillon in Gunsmoke.
  2. He made $1,200 per episode in the early years of the show.
  3. His salary eventually increased to $20,000 per episode as the show gained popularity.
  4. His $20,000 per episode would be equivalent to over $150,000 in today’s money.

Arness accumulated substantial acting income in the early years of Gunsmoke before his salary increased. His earnings per episode grew as the show became more popular over its twenty year run.

Increased Salary

As his fame grew, your paycheck ballooned to a whopping $20,000 per episode. By the mid-1960s, your salary per episode of Gunsmoke had increased tenfold to an impressive $20,000, allowing you to accumulate substantial wealth during the show’s long, popular run.

This income growth reflected your character’s centrality and star power. Your successful contract renegotiations proved fruitful.

Year Salary per Episode Equivalent in 2023
1955 $1,200 $12,000
1965 $20,000 $170,000
1975 $20,000 $100,000

With the show’s success, your earnings understandably rose to compensate for your integral role. The progression of your income mirrors the growth of Gunsmoke itself into an iconic, highly-rated program.

James Arness’ Accumulated Wealth

James Arness
James Arness accumulated substantial wealth over his acting career. When he died in 2011 at age 88, his net worth was estimated to be around $8 million from acting, especially his iconic portrayal of Marshal Matt Dillon on Gunsmoke for over 20 years.

Net Worth at the Time of His Death

At his passing in 2011, Arness left behind an estate of around $8 million, thanks to his successful acting career and two decades as Dillon on the classic western Gunsmoke. The star’s net worth estimate at death reflects a lifetime of financial success in Hollywood.

Through his acting career and most famously his role on Gunsmoke, Arness accumulated substantial assets that passed to his heirs after his death.

While the Marshal Dillon actor lived a long life, his estate value and posthumous financial legacy endure as evidence of a prosperous career in front of the camera. His twenty years on the popular television series provided financial security that lasted beyond his later years.

Sources of Income

Your paycheck ballooned like a hot air balloon as your iconic Marshal Matt Dillon character on Gunsmoke catapulted you to stardom.

  • Earnings from acting on Gunsmoke
  • Income from appearances in films
  • Royalties from reruns and DVD sales
  • Investments and business ventures
  • Real estate holdings

You accumulated substantial wealth through various revenue streams in the entertainment business, building a diverse financial portfolio over your decades-long career on television screens.

James Arness’ Success Beyond Gunsmoke

James Arness
You likely remember James Arness as Marshal Matt Dillon in the classic TV western Gunsmoke, where he earned around $20,000 per episode in the later seasons. After Gunsmoke ended, Arness found further success in movies such as How the West Was Won and television shows including McClain’s Law, where his rugged persona continued to shine.

TV Movies and Other Westerns

You appeared in several TV movies and other westerns beyond Gunsmoke in your long and prosperous acting career. Some of your TV movies include Gunsmoke: Return to Dodge, The Gambler Returns: The Luck of the Draw, and Gunsmoke: One Man’s Justice.

You also had success in science fiction like Them! and The Thing From Another World where you portrayed the title creature.

Your role as Zeb Macahan in How the West Was Won brought you international fame, especially in the UK. The success and legacy of Westerns allows modern reality stars like Willie Robinson of Duck Dynasty to find popularity.

Role in McClain’s Law

As your badge gleamed with honor, you recalled portraying that dedicated officer in McClain’s Law, cementing your place as a stalwart guardian of justice on the small screen.

  • Played a tough, principled police detective
  • Continued your career as a stalwart lawman
  • Solidified your reputation for integrity on television

Portraying the dedicated detective in McClain’s Law demonstrated your versatility beyond Gunsmoke, upholding your strong values developed through military service and mentorship from John Wayne. Your international popularity and steady career highlighted a commitment to justice far beyond one iconic role.

International Popularity in How the West Was Won

He gained international popularity as Zeb Macahan in How the West Was Won, especially in the UK. His portrayal of the rugged frontiersman drew audiences in the UK where westerns enjoyed a strong following.

Despite his fame from Gunsmoke in the US, British viewers came to know Arness best as Zeb fighting Indians and leading wagon trains west.

The series ran for four seasons and cemented his status as an icon in Britain and Europe. Arness demonstrated range beyond Matt Dillon, transitioning from marshal to outdoorsman and hero of the frontier.

Much like Gunsmoke, How the West Was Won became a beloved, long-running western overseas.

James Arness’ Military Service in World War II

James Arness
Before starring as Marshal Matt Dillon on Gunsmoke, you served our country during World War II. As a young man in your early twenties, you felt it was your duty to enlist and contribute to the war effort after Pearl Harbor was attacked in 1941.

Stationed in the Pacific, you were part of several major battles and campaigns as the Allies pushed back the Japanese forces. During the invasion of Anzio in Italy, you were severely wounded by enemy machine gun fire and received the Purple Heart for your bravery.

Recovering from your injuries, you returned home deeply changed by the horrors of war. Though reluctant to discuss details, your military service gave you discipline and an inner strength that would later help you portray the iconic Marshal Dillon.

The war experiences stayed with you, even decades after Gunsmoke made you a household name across America.

John Wayne’s Influence on James Arness’ Career

John Wayne
John Wayne’s influence on James Arness’ career

You surely appreciate John Wayne advocating for you to portray Marshal Matt Dillon in Gunsmoke, establishing your career-defining role. Wayne’s mentorship and Hollywood recommendations provided a tremendous career boost.

His acting guidance and advocacy opened doors that shaped your path. You value Wayne’s legacy and star power in Hollywood, enabling opportunities like Gunsmoke. Capturing the rugged Western marshal role represented a dream realized. With Wayne’s backing, you landed the career-making part on television’s new frontier.

Portraying Dillon for 20 years brought fortune and fame. Yet it all traces to Wayne’s influence, elevating you to small-screen stardom. Your portrayal stood tall alongside Wayne’s monumental film roles over the years.


James Arness was a beloved actor who made a lasting impact on television viewers with his iconic portrayal of Marshal Matt Dillon in Gunsmoke. His career was long and successful, with numerous roles both on TV and in films.

As Dillon, Arness’ salary began at $1,200 per episode but quickly increased to $20,000 when the show became a hit.

At the time of his death, Arness had accumulated a net worth of $8 million. His success was largely due to the influence of John Wayne, who recommended him for the role of Matt Dillon and introduced him for the first episode.

Arness’ career was also shaped by his service in the United States Army during World War II.

He’ll always be remembered for his skillful and memorable performances on Gunsmoke, as well as other works.

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Mutasim Sweileh

Mutasim is an author and software engineer from the United States, I and a group of experts made this blog with the aim of answering all the unanswered questions to help as many people as possible.